Epiphany and parts of me

I know it’s pretty much past time to be thinking about this. I mentioned that Advent didn’t have the “waiting” quality I usually experience, but some thoughts have been bubbling away since I heard Fr G’s epiphany sermon and saw CM’s blog post and amazing photos.
This has more the quality of a “thought” as opposed to an “emotional” reflection. Basically, it was that there are parts of me – desires or drives – like each of the people in the Advent, Christmas. and Epiphany drama.

Take the 3 Kings / Wise Men – through their knowledge and study of nature, they recognized this unusual and amazing star. They were learned – observant – childlike – open – curious – and also reverant. (The scientists I’ve known generally share these characteristics.) Their love of nature revealed this unusul event to them, and they gathered together what they needed to make this long journey from their homeland to find out more. They brought rich gifts to show their reverence. They didn’t send someone else to discover what was going on – they were willing to undertake the hardships of the journey to search out truth and meaning. They asked questions of people to help them in their journey. (I wonder if they worried that asking questions would make them look naive or ignorant, or if they were just so curious and on fire that they had to ask.) They shared their knowledge as they journeyed. And when they arrived – I wonder if the situation they found surprised them – if it looked different from what they expected? Anyway they showed reverence to the child and offered their rich gifts. (Note that they came on a mission of discovery and to offer gifts – not to ask for anything). My favourite phrasing in this story is how the star “filled them with delight.” Then , they were warned in a dream not to go to Herod. I wonder what that dream was like to them – if they were of a different religion, God probably spoke to them in a way that was meaningful to them.

CM reminds me of the 3 Kings with her stunning nature photos, and her passion for hiking.

What struck me especially during Sunday’s sermon was that there are parts of me like Herod. When he heard about signs that this new power, this new life had entered *his* domain, he didn’t welcome it at all. It threatened his power, his lifestyle, his comfort, his usual habits. He pretended to be interested to find out more, and then resolved to make sure this new life couldn’t threaten his old life. As Fr G described this, I thought – How often do I shut down the possibility of new life because it threatens my sovereignity, the way I make decisions for my own convenience, comfort and pleasure? As ardently as I desire change – in my core being there is a resistance to things that will be uncomfortable or difficult – regardless of the reward or benefit for my spiritual (or mental, emotional, physical etc.) being. Herod went to great lengths to kill off any chance of the new life, the new power rising within his kingdom. I don’t know if there’s any parallels there to me and how I live my life or make decisions, but I hope not!

I haven’t given as much thought to the roles of the other people in the Christmas story as they welcomed this child, God made human. I’m sure there are parts of me that desire and welcome the coming new life, God’s spirit and recreation of who I am to someone closer to who I should be. There are the angels, singing for glory and telling everyone how to recognize God, advising people of how to shape their lives to better follow the will of God. There are the shepherds who receive this amazing news and go immediately to worship. These humble, “low,” earthy people who are the first outsiders to know, and who come to worship in simplicity and poverty. There is Joseph, charged with protecting the baby and his wife, attentive to God’s voice in dreams, resourceful and courageous (I’m sure it wasn’t good news to have to go to a foreign land and scrape out a living there instead of returning to their home town and families.) Then of course there was Mary, who so beautifully assented to God’s will in her life and waited in expectation for the baby, trusting God and Joseph – even when he got them moving in the middle of the night to escape from Herod.

And then there is the perspective of the baby Jesus himself, and of God the Father who sent him here. I don’t have many thoughts on that just now, but it’s out there. I’ve probably missed the role of others that I could meditate on as well – the people of the village who had no room but offered a stable. Did they bring food? Did Joseph ask some of the women to help birth the baby? Did they offer these things without any realization of their significance (I think yes) yet their help would have been so critical in bringing this new life into being. Without even realizing it, their actions helped to bring and nourish a new life, a new destiny into being. I can think of many in my life who are not believers in the Christian faith, yet their love and goodness have brought me along this path in faith.


Desire and Discipline

My SIL (who drew my name in the Christmas gift exchange) got me 2 books I really wanted – and I have had a fire in my bones as I’ve been reading them! The first one is “Celebration of Disciplline” by Richard Foster – I believe he’s a Quaker minister, and he goes through various disciplines to help us develop in our relationship to God. He draws on many familiar names (like the saints) and his book is just opening up worlds and ideas for me. So far I’ve read the personal disciplines – meditation, prayer (I’ve been practicing these already), fasting (he’s right, there isn’t much in the way of guidelines or social encouragement in the practice of fasting nowadays … and I haven’t been practicing this in quite a few years) and study. Study is interesting because I”m naturally inclined this way, but it isn’t just books. He talks about verbal (books) and non-verbal (people, interactions, nature, etc) and how we can study them to see God revealed. It brought me back to my late highschool and early university days, when I was breathless with wonder and burning with curiosity at seeing bacteria under a microscope; at reading how a plant balances all its living systems; at why insects are restricted to a smaller size. The thrill of science really calls to me. I’ve always thought of it as God’s fingerprints being everywhere. It’s been awhile since I felt that kind of wonder.

He also talks about how God uses all we are to communicate with us – our intellect, our emotion, our imagination – if we are open to Him. I have felt very strongly drawn to pray for the desire to want “they kingdom come” in all areas of life. I also asked God how I could pray for DH – the prayer chapter focuses on intercessory prayer, but there’s another book it mentions for other kinds of prayer – that is now on my list of things to get! In my mind came an image of my DH as a baby, for me to cuddle and love and then give to God. I think it relates to God providing for our every need, and how DH really needs that right now – even more than usual – because we are in such difficult times. So I am praying with this image. On prayer, Foster also says to pay attention to how we are feeling when there’s an issue or a person we think we should pray for. If we are strongly drawn to it, we should pray for it. If not, or if we really don’t want to do so, perhaps it isn’t for us and God will bring it to someone else’s attention.

The other book is “On desire – why we want what we want” by William Irvine. He’s a philosopher and I heard an interview with him some time ago on CBC radio – probably the program Tapestry. Anyway he was talking about how subject we are to our desires, how little we understand about where they come from, how the affect us deeply. So far I’ve read about a philosophy of desire and some physiological explanations. Basically, the idea is that emotions motivate our strongest, end-point desires. Our intellect helps to set desires that will get us to the end-point desire. Often we have no idea how these desires are formed. To me, this seems like the perfect entry point for God or the devil to influence our thinking and drive our desires one way or another! (my dad would say, humans have always invoked God when there’s something we don’t understand … which is true … but after all, we have eyes and the capacity for sight, we have ears and the capacity to hear, if God exists, wouldn’t he give us a means for communication with Him??)

Now I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, but Irvine does have some chapters on managing/living with our desires – including religious advice, philosophical advice, etc. He likens these desires and the way we deal with them to being a homeowner. A guest unexpectedly shows up, and we think to ourselves “I must have wanted this, here he is” and we let him in. He takes up our time and energy, our leisure time and perhaps even our work time. Then another uninvited guest appears, and again we think “well if he’s here, I must have invited him” and again our resources are depleted. If we are more conscious of our desires, we can be more selective about who we let in and spend our precious energy and time on.

He also talks about the human tendency to want and go after something, and as soon as we get it, discover that it’s not what we wanted after all OR we get habituated to it, so it’s no big deal anymore. I think this is where the process of consciously being thankful for all the we have can really keep before our eyes how fortunate we are.

I haven’t made any particular New Year’s resolutions yet, but I am working on distilling my current thoughts into a personal mission statement (a la Franklin Covey), and no doubt these books will have a big influence!!

I am just really hoping that 2011 will bring us more peace and security. Both DH and I have many gifts and talents that are just not being used as they could be, and we are not as fulfilled in our careers as we have been in the past. I pray that this will be the break-out year for us. It’s been about 3 long years of this slogging through mud, and it feels like it will go on forever. I call to mind my mother’s wise words …. “this too shall pass ….” I sure hope so!

And I wish all of you a wonderful 2011 also!